There is Nothing Free About Free Speech on College Campuses

A woman with tape over her mouth
A woman with tape over her mouth || Image from Flickr

College campuses were once thought of as a beacon of freedom in the United States, but now they stand as a place with thought police standing at every corner to ensure you do not dare challenge somebody’s beliefs.

A study by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) found that 1 in 6 of the United States top colleges have free speech zones. A free speech zone is typically an area where students may express themselves freely on college campuses, while the rest of the campus would be restrictive of speech and expression depending on their own policies.

Colleges seem to have obsessions with buzz words such as “hate speech” and “cultural appropriation,” which have no true definition. When colleges define things with these terms it leaves the administration and faculty with the power to decide who can say what, and this can lead to a political agenda on college campuses.

According to the Econ Journal Watch, registered Democrat college professors outnumber registered Republican college professors 11.5 to 1, with some majors reaching even higher disproportions, as History professors are registered Democrats at 33.5 to 1.

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With academia leaning left, there truly cannot be an unbiased opinion on what speech is appropriate. This is natural in humans, no matter where you land on the political spectrum, you can never truly be unbiased. With the fragility of rights and liberties, something that is ignored in its entirety is that the First Amendment can be broken at any time. When one person does not get First Amendment rights, no one gets them.

Of course, one approach to the mass censorship on college campuses is simply challenging the illegal nature of these free speech codes and regulations. According to the First Amendment Center, administrations have even less of a right to limit free speech on college campuses because it is traditionally an area of public forum.

“Under the public-forum doctrine, government officials have less authority to restrict speech in places that by tradition have been open for free expression. Such an area is called a public forum.”

Put more simply, because colleges have been places of walk-outs, sit-ins, speeches, and protests, colleges simply do not have the right to impose the free speech limitations. But this will go unnoticed until a majority of college students see a problem with it.

The fact is that many college students agree with these policies against free speech or feel indifferent, but colleges are creating a generation of students that are simply intolerant of free speech or freedom of expression. Many professors will too often appease students who lean to the left but isolate and attack those who consider themselves on the right side of the political spectrum or at least offer a differing view point. This leads to a very toxic environment where many college students do not feel the need to listen to any ideas that may challenge their own, or offends them.

A Dartmouth study even shows that the majority of Republicans and Independents are comfortable with having a roommate with opposing political views. Where Democrats rate with only 39% comfortable with a roommate with opposing views, while 41% said that they would be uncomfortable.

This is where the massive problems on college campuses lie; not only are college administrations preventing students from exercising their First Amendment rights, but they are also giving many students a false sense of the real world. They do not challenge students to hear differing opinions and thus replace an exchange of ideas with safe zones and trigger warnings. They miss the true beauty of freedom of speech.

Freedom of speech also means that you can openly argue against someone else’s speech. When many college students leave their universities, they are not prepared to challenge others’ ideas and most of all have their own ideas challenged.

If campus culture is going to change, it all starts with students going out and standing up to policies that actively silence voices, no matter their political identity. Until then, the modern-day college campus will continue to fail to provide students with the tools necessary to live in the real world.

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